N.D. Native a big Help in Russian Agriculture

Zent, Jeff. "N.D. Native a big Help in Russian Agriculture." Fargo Forum, 25 January 2001, A8.

"The older people kind of longed for communism because everything was provided for them. The young people, they love the opportunity, the freedom."

--- LaVern Freeh, Humanitarian

Traveling half way around the world to help people once considered America's enemies has become a way of life for LaVern Freeh.

For nearly 30 years, and in several capacities, the Harvey, N.D., native has helped Russia improve its agriculture industry.

Freeh, the son of Germans from Russia, is a retired professor, university administrator, corporate officer and humanitarian. And in all of his positions, he has traveled to Russia to help its people become self-reliant producers from the land.

Freeh's work in Russia started more than 20 years ago, while he served as Director of International Programs at the University of Minnesota.

He established a training program that allowed Russian students to attend school at the university and work on Minnesota farms.

It was a considerable accomplishment at a time when relations between the United States and the then-Soviet Union were tense.

The Department of State heard of his work and, in 1978, recruited Freeh to expand the program.
"They wanted to see if we could create a farmer exchange program as a way of breaking down the iron curtain," Freeh said Wednesday from his Roseville, Minnesota home.

After 18 years at the university, Freeh left the ivory tower in 1980 and accepted a position with Land O' Lakes, Inc. As vice president of international development, he continued his trips to Russia.

Freeh helped the company break into the Russian market by developing dairy cooperatives and other agricultural advances.

It was during his Russia assignment that Freeh learned of the Russian Farm Community Project.

After the fall of communism in 1991, a group of Americans set out to help build a market-driven Russia.

"The older people kind of longed for communism because everything was provided for them," Freeh said. The young people, they love the opportunity, the freedom."

"They never want to go back to communism," he said.

The project's members collect donations and raise money to finance agricultural improvement projects.

Freeh retired from Land O' Lakes in 1992 and entrenched himself into the community project.

Project members have helped Russians establish farm credit programs, training schools, marketing associations, crop processing and distribution centers, a sawmill, bakery and other businesses.

"It was starting from scratch," Freeh said.

"They had tractor drivers and they had mechanics, but they had no farmers," Freeh said. "Everybody had a specialty, but nobody owned anything."

Despite improvements, Russia continues to struggle, he said.

"You can't help all of Russia," he said. "It's like an elephant."

"The bigger cities like St. Petersburg have done very well, but as you get further away from the cities, it's a struggle," Freeh said.

Freeh has written a book about the Russian Farm Community Project.

In the book, Couldn't Be Better Freeh writes about Armand Hammer, evangelist Robert Schuller and other prominent Americans who have contributed to Russia's growth.

The book is available through North Dakota State University Libraries'
Web site at (http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc), or click on cover above for order form..

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller